Card sorting, and two tools for doing it

Card sorting

We read a huge amount of visitor feedback from our clients’ sites. One of the most common complaints from visitors is that they can’t find what they are looking for. This is a serious problem: these visitors are actually unable to spend money.

Fortunately, there are several straightforward ways of fixing the problem. One of them is to optimize the information architecture of your site. “Card sorting” is a simple technique that allows your users to do this for you.

With card sorting, you write the name of each section of your site onto an index card. You then ask one of your users to arrange the cards into groups that make logical sense. If you do this with several users, you’ll start to notice trends (and new ideas) about how your site’s content should be organized.

The following tools make card sorting easier.

(By the way, we never profit in any way from recommending software.)

OptimalSort: a tool that enables you to carry out card sorting online

How OptimalSort works.
An OptimalSort test for a fictitious pet store. (“Rat toys” was a joke, but it turns out they do exist.)

OptimalSort is a useful web app that saves you from having to get your users into the same room as you. You create a test in OptimalSort’s interface, then OptimalSort gives you a URL to send to your test participants. The participants, (ideally real users of your site), carry out the tests in their own time, saving you the time and hassle of having to moderate each test.

Once several card-sorting sessions have been carried out, OptimalSort collates the data into several useful reports, like this one:

OptimalSort’s “dendrogram report.”
OptimalSort’s “dendrogram reports” combine the results from all of your card-sorting sessions in a way that helps you to create your information architecture.

Treejack: a tool that helps you to test your existing information architecture

The company that created OptimalSort also has another tool, Treejack, which helps you to identify problems with your existing navigation structure.

A test in Treejack
A test in Treejack.

Treejack allows you to give users tasks, such as

Once you’ve given the users their tasks, you then cross your fingers that they’ll click on the right part of your navigation structure. Treejack compiles their responses into reports, like the “pietree report” (shown below), which helps you to visualize problems with your navigation structure.

Treejack’s “pietree” report.
Treejack’s detailed-path-analysis report (affectionately known as the “pietree”).

To discover more great tools for understanding your visitors, see this article.

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